WHO at UNGASS2016: Focus on Public Health, Not Law Enforcement

Credit: WHO

Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), delivered opening remarks at UNGASS2016 in New York on Tuesday. In her remarks, Dr. Chan encouraged world leaders to view drug abuse and addiction not as a law enforcement issue, but rather, as a public health issue. 

In the view of WHO, drug policies that focus almost exclusively on use of the criminal justice system need to be broadened by embracing a public health approach. A public health approach starts with the science and the evidence. It tells us several things.

Drug use can be prevented. Drug use disorders can be treated. Drug dependence that contributes to crime can be diminished. People with drug dependence can be helped and returned to productive roles in society.

WHO promotes a comprehensive package of interventions to achieve these objectives. The evidence shows they work. — Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO

While Dr. Chan did not specifically mention medical cannabis, she urged the body to proceed with compassion. Many controlled substances serve important roles in medicine as pain medications. Other substances, such as cannabis, need additional access to further medical research. 

WHO is engaged in another dimension of the world drug problem that needs urgent attention.

The international drug control conventions place a dual obligation on governments: to prevent abuse, diversion, and trafficking, but also to ensure the availability of controlled substances for medical and scientific purposes.

Many controlled substances play a critical role in medical care, for the relief of pain, for example, or use in anaesthesia, surgery, and the treatment of mental disorders.

Unfortunately, the obligation to prevent abuse has received far more attention that the obligation to ensure availability for medical care. WHO estimates that 80% of the world’s population lives in countries with zero or very little access to controlled medicines for relieving moderate to severe pain.

After you endorse and begin to implement the outcome document, I urge you to remember the people. And remember their right to treatment and care.

The people with cancer who die in agony for want of pain relief. The people wishing to be free from drugs who get no help from the health or social services.

The people forced into crime or prostitution to pay for their addiction, and what this does to society. And the millions whose injecting drug use adds HIV or hepatitis to their misery.  — Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO

See Dr. Chan’s full remarks at: http://www.who.int/dg/speeches/2016/world-drug-problem/en/